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Retailers and foreign agencies revealed among Clearview facial biometrics users as Apple blocks app

Secretive hardware division developing cameras and wearables
Retailers and foreign agencies revealed among Clearview facial biometrics users as Apple blocks app

The client list of controversial facial recognition provider Clearview AI includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice, government agencies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and other countries, and retailers including Best Buy, Walmart and Macy’s, as well as law enforcement around the world, BuzzFeed News reports. In addition to supplying them with biometric software, the company is also developing an integrated hardware facial recognition solution, according to a separate BuzzFeed News article.

Many of the organizations on the list used the software on a trial basis, and many as individuals, who did not necessarily have official support for their tests.

Credentialed users of Clearview include the FBI, CBP, Interpol and hundreds of local police departments, according to BuzzFeed News.

Clearview attorney Tor Ekeland, however, denied the legitimacy of the list. “There are numerous inaccuracies in this illegally obtained information. As there is an ongoing Federal investigation, we have no further comment.”

The company acknowledged last week that an unauthorized third party accessed its client list.

BuzzFeed News says it has authenticated the list, and that it contains logs listing roughly 2,900 institutions. The record includes the number of logins and searches, and the data of the last search run. Some of those organizations appear not to have run any searches or logged in, and the outlet has declined to publish the names of those parties. The leaves people from or connected to 2,258 law enforcement agencies, companies, and institutions. They have performed nearly half a million searches between them. Some the organizations have formal contracts to use the technology, but many do not, according to the report.

Clearview users running Apple devices were encouraged by the company to download the app through a developer program, rather than the Apple App Store, a violation of the tech giant’s rules that it responded to by suspending Clearview’s developer account, which blocks the app from working, BuzzFeed News writes elsewhere.

“I am wary of this ability Apple wields to block folks from running what they choose on their own devices, yet I doubt many will shed a tear in cases like this or like Facebook ‘Research’ — both cases where technology is being used to do harm,” Will Strafach, founder and CEO of iOS security app-maker Guardian Firewall told BuzzFeed News.

The list of clients also includes the NBA, Kohl’s, Madison Square Garden, Eventbrite, a casino, fitness company Equinox, and Coinbase. The NBA and MSG denied contracting Clearview. Bank of America denied being a client, despite performing more than 1,900 searches.

“There is no clear line between who is permitted access to this incredibly powerful and incredibly risky tool and who doesn’t have access,” notes Georgetown Law School Center on Privacy and Technology Senior Associate Clare Garvie in a comment to BuzzFeed News. “There is not a clear line between law enforcement and non-law enforcement.”

When contacted, some of the organizations listed in the document denied use of Clearview, or knowledge of its use, to BuzzFeed News, though some admitted accounts after internal investigations.

BuzzFeed further details the use of Clearview by U.S. federal agencies, including the White House.

Canada’s federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has used the app, which is currently under investigation by the country’s Privacy Commissioner and others, “in a limited capacity,” reports CBC News.

The House of Commons Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics may examine the impact of facial recognition on society.

Cameras and wearables in development

Clearview also operates a hardware division called Insight Camera, which is developing a surveillance camera with integrated facial biometrics for retail, banking, and residential applications, as a Wayback Machine snapshot of its now-offline website shows.

The website went down following inquiries from BuzzFeed, but no comment was provided. The publication also reports that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Rudin Management, a real estate firm based in New York City, have trialed Insight Cameras.

UFT told BuzzFeed News that it trialed the solution successfully in a black-label application. “We did not access the larger Clearview database,” a spokesperson says. “Instead, we used Insight Camera in a self-contained, closed system that relied exclusively on images generated on site.”

A representative of Rudin Management confirmed the test but said the company had decided against an operational deployment.

Clearview claimed in 2018 to have provided facial recognition hardware and software to a leading supermarket chain in Manhattan.

The controversial AI company has also partnered with Vuzix, which confirmed it sent Clearview some of its augmented reality glasses for testing, and has experimented with glasses from RealWear.

Updated at 15:06 on 02-03-2020 with Insight Camera details

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